Before the New York Jets begin training camp later this week, I want to illustrate how their roster measures up to their divisional opponents’ rosters. No offense to kickers and punters, but I will be leaving special teams out of this article for space reasons. Let’s start with what we are most familiar with.
New York Jets projected lineups:
QB Geno Smith
RB Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory
FB Tommy Bohanon
WR Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Jacoby Ford, David Nelson
TE Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland
LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson
LG Willie Colon
C Nick Mangold
RG Brian Winters
RT Breno Giacomini
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a lifelong fan of this team, so my criticism of the roster may not be harsh. The Jets have relatively few star players, but few very weak units, either. Of course it is too much to ask of Geno Smith to take the Jets to the Super Bowl in his second year (forget what Russell Wilson accomplished in his sophomore campaign), but this newly refurbished offense is much too talented to finish 25th in total production and 29th in scoring again. The defensive secondary can actually be salvaged if the Dee Milliner from last December shows up and if Pryor succeeds as a rookie. Teams will have to beat the Jets through the air and by constantly pressuring Geno Smith into making mistakes.
But last season’s surprising 8-8 performance was a step in the right direction, and to write off the New York Jets out of this year’s postseason discussion would be a big mistake.
Now let’s break down the Jets’ AFC East opponents: New England, Miami and Buffalo.
New England Patriots projected lineups:
QB Tom Brady
RB Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen
FB James Develin
WR Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell
TE Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui
LT Nate Solder
LG Logan Mankins
C Ryan Wendell
RG Dan Connolly
RT Sebastian Vollmer
It has now been a decade since New England last won a Super Bowl. They’ve averaged more than 12 wins a year in the nine seasons since, including their 16-0 perfect regular season in ’07. But in a league obsessed with Super Bowl rings, the Pats have received a pass for not winning the big one again. Still, they’ve dominated the AFC East all millennium.
Strengths: Tom Brady’s receiving corps, providing everyone stays healthy, will be much better this year. Thompkins and Aaron Dobson (unlisted) have their rookie years behind them now, and Brandon LaFell arrives from Carolina, another talented target to give the Jets headaches. And we can’t pretend the additions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner won’t turn around their passing defense. Devin McCourty, the secondary’s one consistent bright spot this decade, can move from corner to safety.
Weaknesses: LeGarrette Blount left in free agency. Face it – Brady has always played much better when he has had a legitimate running game to support him, and the Patriots never looked more threatening than in the three straight games in December and the Wild Card Round in which Blount ran for a total of 431 yards and eight touchdowns. Ridley and Vereen return; they had their moments in the sun in 2013, but lack Blount’s danger and explosiveness. Meanwhile, three quarters of the starting defensive line are in their thirties.
Miami Dolphins projected lineups:
QB Ryan Tannehill
RB Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller
FB Michael Egnew
WR Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Jarvis Landry
TE Charles Clay, Dion Sims
LT Branden Albert
LG Shelley Smith
C Mike Pouncey
RG Dallas Thomas
RT Ja’Wuan James
Miami dealt with a lot on and off the field in Joe Philbin’s first year as head coach, and he still got the team to 8-8. They could have been a wild card team had the Jets not stomped them out in Week 17.
Strengths: People don’t realize receiver Brian Hartline had more receptions and yards (76, 1,016) than Mike Wallace (73, 930) last year. When Dustin Keller fell to injury in the preseason last year, Charles Clay stepped up and had a great year for himself (69, 759 and a team-leading six touchdowns). The D-line is underrated, led by Cameron Wake’s 51.5 sacks in five years, and corners Grimes and Finnegan are a tough pair to pass on.
Weaknesses: The Dolphins had to hit the restart button on the offensive line, partly because of the Richie Incognito scandal and partly because Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times. Branden Albert will make a great left tackle, but guards Smith and Thomas are inexperienced and unimpressive; Ja’Wuan James is a rookie Miami reached for in the first round; and Mike Pouncey is dealing with hip surgery rehab and a lawsuit. Experts don’t seem to think the addition of Knowshon Moreno will help the team run the ball more effectively.
Buffalo Bills projected lineups:
QB EJ Manuel
RB CJ Spiller, Bryce Brown
FB Frank Summers
WR Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Naaman Roosevelt
TE Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki
LT Cordy Glenn
LG Chris Williams
C Eric Wood
RG Kraig Urbik
RT Cyrus Kouandjio
The Bills have been a sexy upset pick to challenge New England for the divisional title for the last few years, but the hype has amounted to nothing. They are still mired in the longest current postseason drought in the league (14 seasons – no playoff berth since 1999). But Buffalo always plays the Jets tough and have split their season series the last two years.
Strengths: Buffalo acquired Bryce Brown and hometown kid Mike Williams via trades and Sammy Watkins in the draft, giving their offense the adrenaline injection it needed. Although Marcell Dareus failed his conditioning test at the beginning of camp, he’s part of a threatening defensive line that also includes Mario and Kevin Williams and the underappreciated Jerry Hughes. The four of them combined for 41 sacks last season.
Weaknesses: The Bills suffered a huge setback when Kiko Alonso tore his ACL while working out, ending his sophomore NFL season before it could begin. Alonso was the main competitor to New York’s Sheldon Richardson for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2013; he recorded 159 tackles, four picks and two sacks at the middle linebacker position, and was expected to move to the outside with the arrival of free agent MLB Brandon Spikes. Can Manny Lawson step in at linebacker instead? On offense, a lot rests on the production of second-year QB EJ Manuel, who, like Geno, had his bright spots and hard times last year.
What does it all mean?
For one, there is no dominant offensive line in this division; the ’Sons of Anarchy, Coples and Pace should have no trouble getting to the AFC East quarterbacks. On the flip side, there is no secondary in this division to be taken lightly anymore, not even Buffalo’s – although Geno Smith looked like a seasoned pro beating them in his third career game, the same unit gave him all kinds of problems in the Jets’ Week 11 loss.
Here are my predictions for the four teams’ divisional records:
New England: 4-2
New York: 4-2
I think the Jets can upset New England in East Rutherford again this year, but also drop one to the Bills or Dolphins pretty easily. Four division wins should still be plenty for the Jets to make a run at the playoffs. Full 16-game record predictions for the New York Jets and other teams are coming next month! Enjoy the start of camp!